Sport and politics must learn to be better team-mates - Stuart Rayner

“Keep politics out of sport,” you often hear, with good reason. Sport is supposed to be a release from things like that.

But politics and sport are sometimes inseparable.

The European Championship is not halfway through and already it has been pretty political.

Before it even started there was the politics about whether England’s players should take the knee before matches to protest against racial discrimination.

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Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)

They said it was not a political gesture and they did not want it to be, but could not stop it becoming a political issue. Some who objected did so because they felt it was dragging in politics. Boris Johnson, Pritti Patel and others weighing in with their views made it more political.

Rainbows became political this week.

In a clear indication of their skewed priorities, Uefa investigated Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for wearing a multi-coloured captain’s armband against Portugal. It was to support LGBTQ+ rights and unlike taking the knee, the governing body saw that as political until backtracking.

But when Munich asked to light its ground in rainbow colours for the visit of Hungary – whose fans protested against taking the knee as they marched to the game against France and waved anti-LGBTQ+ banners at it – it was seen as a step too far. Instead, plenty of fans wore rainbow colours, one invading the pitch with a rainbow flag.

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stands in front of the Hungary block. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stands in front of the Hungary block. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stands in front of the Hungary block. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)

An investigation into the protests and alleged racist abuse in that game was slower to be announced, but is happening.

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The Government then played politics to keep the semi-finals and final at Wembley as Hungary and Italy pitched for it, bending their rules under Uefa pressure so sponsors and overseas fans did not have to keep the same quarantine anyone else entering from an amber or red list country must.

The games are “pilot events” so instead of limiting capacity to 10,000, Wembley can pass a share of gate receipts for more than 60,000 fans on to Uefa.

Awarding a politically reprehensible government like Hungary’s the final on top of those protests would be political, as would not doing so. Some very dubious regimes – and plenty of perfectly fine ones – pour a lot of effort and money into hosting major sporting events to legitimise and promote themselves. Once they bid for them, authorities face a political decision because even taking an apolitical one is... political.

It is a minefield, and one you would want a body with a better moral compass than Uefa’s leading you through.

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Public Health England were firmer on Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, insisting they stick to isolation rules after being too close to Billy Gilmour before his Covid-19 diagnosis. Not doing so would have caused ructions.

Before you can keep politics out, you have to decide what it is.

In many of these cases, and acts like wearing a poppy, if people agree with the cause, it is not political, just moral. Not everyone agrees.

When a footballer like Marcus Rashford uses his profile for so much good, should we discourage him from playing politics?

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Maybe we should embrace players expressing their personalities and if that means supporting ending poverty, opposing discrimination or saying what they think about Scottish devolution, just not get too het up about it.

Politics will not go away. Like Covid, sport might just have to learn to live with it.

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